Archive for Miscellany

Robin Grey – a great hidden treasure

Robin GreyJust been listening to Robin Grey's latest track: Younger Looking Skin.

And I love it.

It's one of those tracks that gets your foot tapping involuntarily. At 5min 30sec it's longer than most of his previous tracks yet it leaves you wanting more, more, more. No wonder Fensepost says he's "truly one of the greatest hidden treasures in the European underground" and that that he is "at the top of his game".

Join his mailing list to receive dates of his gigs in London and new song releases.

Here's the video of Younger Looking Skin:

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Don’t listen to Crash Gordon. Save.

What caused this financial crisis? Debt. Specifically, risky loans that should never have been offered.

As soon as house prices started falling, people around the world (not just the USA) defaulted on their mortgages, triggering repossessions and causing losses for banks. The further property prices fell, the more repossessions, the greater the loss. Many banks lent so much money to risky borrowers that bank failure was inevitable. In a free market, they would be left to go bankrupt. But the phrase "too big to fail" was adopted by every Western government and now much of the banking sector in the US and Europe is being nationalised.

So what do the governments see as the solution? More debt.

Debt for the nation

Each Western nation has taken on massive debt – billions or trillions of pounds per nation. It will take decades to repay either through lower public expenditure or higher taxation or both. The total amount remains to be seen because we don't know how big the bank losses will be. As asset prices fall (particularly houses) there will be more repossessions and greater debts. Total debt is probably more than the banks owned up to and it will get worse as property prices continue to fall.

Debt for the citizens

Last weekend, the G7 drew up a five-point rescue plan. Read between the lines and it infers that they want to rewind the clock to the rosy days of easy credit. That is being confirmed by Gordon Brown's recent statements such as "the UK problem was not shortage of demand for homes at "the right prices" but a shortage of mortgages "at the right prices for people to buy". Again, "Crash Gordon" gets it wrong. He wants us to get into more debt to buy overpriced property. This is the man famous for stealth taxation and overspending. This is the man who promised "no more boom and bust" yet we've had the biggest bust for 80 years, lumping unimaginable debts on the British taxpayer.

Debt is the problem

Our society has become reliant on debt. A certain amount of debt is a good thing – prudent borrowing permits faster investment into the economy. But we've taken it to unsustainable levels and nationalisation of the banking sector won't fix the problem. It only prolongs the pain of paying back the debt.

Furthermore, the government does not need to kick start mortgage lending – there is no problem in mortgage lending. You can get a mortgage now perfectly easily if you meet the criteria. You just need a decent deposit and proof of income. This is exactly how it should be. Responsible lending. The last thing we need is to go back to the reckless lending to people with tiny deposits and low income.

Saving is the solution

It's time to rediscover the benefits of saving: it provides greater freedom, encourages better financial planning, establishes financial security, is a good family value, is morally good and it's responsible. God that sounds dull. Maybe that is the problem – saving just isn't perceived as sexy.

Easy money and buying stuff – now that's sexy. But that's what got us into this mess. To get out of it, we need to make saving sexy. How can we do that? Interest rates of 10% might do the trick. In fact, higher interest rates would have prevented this crisis. Yet they're not going up, they're coming down even further as our 'leaders' try to keep this consumer debt machine going.

As individuals, we can do as we choose. We can decline that overpriced house, that increased credit limit, that unsecured personal loan. And we should. Stick your money in a high interest savings account. Pay off your mortgage sooner than you intended. Start a business that does not require capital. Whatever you do, don't listen to Gordon.

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Billion dollar bank notes

A family friend from Zimbabwe recently came for a 2 week break in the UK.

He brought some Zimbabwean dollars with him including this note that he was given 4 weeks ago. It was worth roughly US$1. By the 25th July, it was worth roughly US$0.1. By next week, it will probably be worthless.

50 billion Dollar note, Zimbabwe

50 billion Dollar note, Zimbabwe

Click the note to see a larger image. Notice how it has an expiry date:

Pay the bearer on demand 50 billion dollars on or before 31st December 2008.

Apparently people don't want Zimbabwean dollars any more. Instead, they use foreign currency or they barter – exchanging goods with each other. He told us of a farmer that pays his workers in bananas, for which they are very grateful.

It is a classic example of hyperinflation and a sorry state of affairs for this once prosperous country.

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One egg, two yolks

My scrambled eggs this morning were extra yellow thanks to the twin yolks from this single egg. First time I've seen that.

Apparently it occurs in roughly 1 in 1,000 eggs. Here is the dual-core oeuf…

One egg, two yolks

2 hours later…

As if that was not odd enough, we just had another double yolk in from 1 egg. They both came from the same box of 6 eggs from Tesco (free range organic). Can anyone explain this?

Twin yolks from one egg (again)

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Wake up and keep it real!

The Story of StuffHave you ever noticed how people forget about their childhood dreams, aspirations and beliefs as they grow older? It's a gradual process that seems to happen to almost everyone whether they notice or not.

Is it just me, or when you were younger, could you see obvious solution to problems? Did you wonder why we put up with things that were blatantly wrong or ill-conceived? Did you wonder why it took us years or decades to implement simple ideas and still they weren't done as well as they should have been?

Too much rubbish!Recycling facilities for paper, glass, plastic and aluminium. Proper school dinners. Energy-efficient housing. Renewable energy plants. Alternatives to petrol and diesel. Affordable and reliable public transport. No smoking in public places.

Most of these great ideas are still waiting to happen, yet thinking people (particularly children) thought of them 10, 20, 30 or more years ago. I use the expression thinking people because it seems that when we get a job and then a better job and then a house and a husband/wife and a family, we forget to really think. We just go with the flow. We get into a comfort zone and are easily influenced by the media and advertising. We begin to forget those great ideas we once had and we lose the ambition to actually make them happen.

Let's not forget them. Let's nurture them and grow them through action. Let's keep our brains and spirits alive and kicking.

Now here is what prompted this post – The Story of Stuff – the latest outstanding video from Free Range Studios.

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Organ donation online

Transplants save livesIn the old days, you could tick an "organ donation" box when you filled in the registration form at your local GP surgery. If you ticked it, your organs would be made available to sick people needing organ transplants. But what would happen if you registered at a new doctors surgery when you moved house, but this time you didn't tick the box? Does that mean that you've now opted out?

Alternatively, you could register as a donor by carrying a donor card with you. But I'm 32 years old and have a life expectancy of another 54 years, so what's the point of padding out my wallet with another card?

Become a donorThankfully this is 2008 and some of the £zillions that the NHS has wasted spent on IT has found its way to this Organ Transplant website. I just registered as a donor in under 2 minutes. If I ever change my mind, I can go back to the website and amend my details or remove them.

The interweb saves the day again.

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HSBC knows customer service

HSBC parcel in the postA parcel just arrived out of the blue with my name on it. Everyone loves a surprise parcel. I opened the outer packaging and found a red box with a "Sorry" note.

It was from my bank, HSBC, and contained a bottle of white wine. It was their way of apologising for losing my replacement debit card.

HSBC no longer sends cards by post due to security concerns, so I had to pick it up from my local branch. I visited the branch 4 times but each time it was missing. Eventually, another new card was issued and posted to my home.

HSBC apologyI already rate HSBC highly for customer service, so a response like this on the rare occassion that they do mess up is very impressive.

Cheers folks!

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My new sunglasses, night time use only

Jake's new sunglassesOn Monday, I made the most extravagant purchase of my life. My new wraparound sunglasses cost a cool £4,620. There is no famous brand name etched on the frame and they are for night time use only. It's what's behind the glasses that counts.

Three days earlier I'd visited Sheraz Daya at the Centre For Sight to see if he could correct my eyesight through laser eye surgery. My infallible optometrist of 17 years, Nigel Burnett Hodd, was cautious about laser surgery, but he recommended that if I did have it, I must go to Mr Daya.

The results of my eye examination gave Mr Daya total confidence that he could fix my short sightedness and astigmatism. Not only could he return my sight to 20/20, he believed he might do even better.

Snellen chartI didn't know then that better than 20/20 was possible. But I do now. Just 24 hours after surgery, my eyes were tested again and I now had 20/20 vision in my right eye and at least 20/15 vision in my left. They might improve further still over the coming weeks. For comparison, my eyes had previously been around 20/100 while the best a human can see is about 20/10.

The operation itself took about 45 seconds per eye and was almost painless. I had been sedated but was still conscious. Mr Daya was pleased with the operation and my sister drove me home with my new sunglasses and a collection of eye drops. For 4 weeks I will wear the sunglasses while I sleep to prevent me from rubbing my eye and I shall administer eye drops regularly during the day.

The outcome is remarkable. My left eye sight is outstanding – better than I have ever experienced with glasses or lenses. My right eye sight is good enough for all daily tasks though my hunch is that I will need repeat laser surgery to improve it further. If so, that will happen in 3 months at no additional cost.

I'll update this post later with a review of my progress.

6 months later…

I can still see clearly and my vision has been stable since the operation 6 months ago. I had a check-up today at Centre For Sight, Queen Anne Street, London. My eyesight remains better than 20:20.

During the 6 months, my eyes have felt dry on perhaps 5 occasions late at night. This is a minor side effect of Lasik treatment and though the discomfort is minimal, it can be cured with eye drops. I experienced no other side effects.

IntraLasik surgery is life changing. No more contact lenses, solutions, glasses, irritated eyes – just crystal clear vision. It costs a few bob, but it is worth every penny. The results should last until middle-age when eyesight naturally deteriorates, at which point, further operations can assist.

If you are considering IntraLasik surgery, I highly recommend you discuss it with Sheraz Daya at Centre For Sight.

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The house price crash has started

House price confidence collapsesThe house price crash always was a matter of when, not if. One year on, the BBC has covered the story again and it's experts all agreed that it has started, that further falls are inevitable and that it was a good thing for the UK.

The Newsnight discussion was prompted by yesterday's Nationwide report showing a fall in house prices for the fifth consecutive month. That means average UK property prices have fallen, month-on-month for 5 months. It's conclusive proof that a crash has started and when you take other factors into account (the credit crisis, rising inflation, American recession, possible UK recession, mortgage interest rates going up – yes, up) it looks like it will be prolonged and severe.

But there are two sides to every story and who better than the Daily Express (self-proclaimed as "The World's Greatest Newspaper") to tell the true story? "House prices still on the rise" is today's front page story in an undisguised attempt to sell more newspapers by telling their punters what they want to hear.

The article helpfully points out that prices are 1.1% higher than a year ago, without mentioning that the market has been falling non-stop for 5 months. Using that logic, we see that the stock market is on the rise too. The FTSE 100 is higher than it was 3 years ago and it's much higher than it was 20 years ago. Why are traders so gloomy?!

Back in the real world…

  • Nobody can forecast accurately how severe this crash will be. There are too many unknowns – how deep can the losses get before other banks collapse, how will the public react to falling house prices, how will it effect the economy and job prospects. One thing is for sure, the public has borrowed too much money for too long and the banks have called an end to the party. It's payback time.
  • The Daily Express is just another cheap tabloid with no credibility, no journalistic integrity and littered with errors.
  • The world's greatest newspaper is actually The Economist. If you have not read it, register for a free weekly email news summary or subscribe here. It is published once per week and only covers issues of consequence. You get to read things that really matter, written by outstanding journalists published as one lightweight magazine.

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Wedding photo shoot in Malaysia

Sophia and JakeWeddings are a bit different over here in Malaysia. Instead of being married, having the ceremony and taking photos all on the same day as we do in the UK, each of these is done separately.

Yesterday, we had our "pre-wedding photo shoot" in Kuala Lumpur, safe in the hands of Robin Ng – professional Malaysian wedding photographer.

Robin has just posted some of the shots on his blog. Go on over and amuse yourself looking at us posing for the camera. I'm starting to appreciate how tricky Charley's job is!

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